I don’t know about you, but setting often makes or breaks a book for me. When an author uses a unique or memorable setting, it enhances and moves along the plot, adds another dimension to the characters, and makes the theme stick with me longer. Powerful imagery goes a long way in helping me enjoy and remember a book. Today, I thought I’d list my favorite settings from fiction books. I’m going with fiction only instead of just books in general because then I’d probably end up with a list full of fantasy books, since those usually boast incredible settings. However, I want to highlight how settings in our own world can still be poignant and exciting.
Also, let me note that these are my favorite settings—places that I’d want to visit, places that thrilled my soul. Many books, like Dickens’ and The Great Gatsby, employ setting masterfully, but those places aren’t beautiful or appealing to me. Instead of an essay on which books use setting best, today I’m highlighting locations that captured my imagination.
1. The Good Master // Kate Seredy
Eastern Europe is a place I know very little—and have read very few books—about, so when a friend recommended this young adult book about a girl in pre-war Hungary, I was so excited. I’ve never been to Hungary (big surprise, I know), but this book made me fall in love with its huge plains and rolling hills, with its quaint towns and colorful customs. The story follows a city girl who goes to live with her cousin in the country, so in a way, she’s as unfamiliar with the land as I am. Her growing delight in the rural life and vast fields poured through the pages into me, and I dream of one day actually visiting the wild, harsh, beautiful plains of Hungary.
2. The Nine Tailors // Dorothy Sayers
I could have listed any number of Dorothy Sayers books, actually; she does a remarkable job of weaving the setting into her plot, making it an integral part of the solving of the mysteries. However, The Nine Tailors‘ setting stood out to me the most of all her books. It takes place in a small village in the English fens, another place I want to visit (you’ll probably be hearing that a lot in this post). The wild weather, harshness of the land, and threat of flooding brood over the book, percolating into the plot and characters, filling it all with a sense of danger and ruggedness. It adds to the already ominous mystery, and it provides a striking and majestic backdrop to the church with its old and glorious bells. The combination of the mysterious theft, ancient bells ringing on through the storm, and the mighty storm itself is something I’ll never forget.
3. Anne of Green Gables // L. M. Montgomery
Who could forget Prince Edward Island? Yes, you guessed it—I want to visit there, too. (My To Be Visited List is probably as long as my To Be Read one.) I love its quiet charm, the calm, quaint pace of life, the fields of wildflowers blowing atop the dunes that run down to the sapphire sea. I want to wander through the placid, sun-streaked woods with Anne and visit the secret coves by the ocean. I want to walk on Lover’s Lane and, most of all, along the Birch Path. I want to live in a little cottage in the forest or near a field or by the sea. *sighs wistfully*
4. Green Dolphin Street // Elizabeth Goudge
This is it, guys. This book has my favorite settings of all time. Are you ready to hear about them?
You’ll notice that I said settings plural, because the wonderful thing about this story is that it happens in two places: the Channel Islands of England and New Zealand. You might have realized by now that I love the ocean, and the island where the first part takes place sounds like heaven on earth. It’s washed over with salt air, ringing with the waves pounding against its cliffs, thrumming with the wildness and energy of the ocean. There are caves in the cliffs where you can climb and secret coves with rare shells that only the adventurous stumble upon. Its beaches stretch out to rocky stepping stones only visible at low tide, where you can stand at the edge of the sea.
Then there’s New Zealand. I’d wanted to go there before I read the book—mainly because that’s where The Lord of the Rings were filmed, ahem—but Green Dolphin Street magnified that desire a hundred times. It’s wild, too, but ever so beautiful. From the thick forests and rocky mountains to the lush, emerald fields nestled in rolling hills, the place sounds magical. It’s so diverse—mountains and ocean, what could be better?—and every part of it sounds rich, vibrant, and stunning. It’s the kind of place that you could lose your heart to. Plus, Elizabeth Goudge’s lyrical descriptions of both of these places literally make me starry-eyed.
There you are! Four settings that grabbed when I first read about them and are still dazzling my mind. They’re all a little different, but I’m noticing common themes—they’re all natural, first of all, no cities. They all also have a hint of wildness, ruggedness, of vastness and expanse. I guess they awaken the adventurer in me.
Now I want you to tell me what settings you have loved most. It’s so fun to see how everyone’s different and in love with such varying places. Close your eyes and remember which books had locations that you just wanted to jump into, cities or mountains that captured your heart. And then let me know!